No Pain, No Gain is the Wrong Refrain

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By Olivia C. Rossi, RN, MSN, ACSM
Your Personal Trainer:

If you have recently started an exercise program you may be feeling muscles you’d forgotten you had or never even knew were there in the first place!  Exercise should not be painful.  No pain, no gain is indeed the wrong refrain!  Mild discomfort shows that you are doing more than you have been.  Think of it as a wake-up call for your muscles.  Pain indicates that you may be doing too much too fast, or that perhaps you have sustained an injury.

Even if you are a long time exerciser, when you start something new, you will feel it.  Exercise is specific.  There is a term in exercise physiology called “specificity.”  Put simply, it means that if you want to be a good runner, you need to practice or train by running.  If you want to excel in swimming, you need to swim.  That’s why you feel “new” muscles when you change your routine and is also the reason that if you’re just beginning an exercise program, you may feel a little sore.  Muscle soreness is common when you begin a fitness program or if you do something to which you are unaccustomed.  Lance Armstrong was the world’s best cyclist when he decided to run a marathon.  He had superb aerobic capacity but when he switched to running it was a whole new ball game–oops–I think that’s a mixed metaphor!  He still had great aerobic endurance but needed to work on training for running instead of cycling.

Here’s a health and fitness reminder:  don’t let initial muscle soreness keep you from your workout.  Have you ever noticed that you sometimes feel sorer two days after you begin exercising than the day after?  That’s fairly typical.  In the exercise world it’s called DOMS, Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.  It results from microscopic muscle or connective tissue damage.  It means that your muscles are adjusting, or adapting, to what you are asking them to do–your new fitness routine.

It’s okay to be a little sore.  You’re not out of shape.  You’re on your way to getting in shape.  Don’t stop working out, just back off a little, take it easy, but keep your muscles moving.  Some gentle stretches will help, too.  Your body will adapt, the soreness will go away, and you will be able to do more without the soreness.  The key is to make gradual adjustments.  Your muscles will get used to it and the most important muscle in your body, your heart, will be able to pump more blood with each beat, will beat fewer times per minute and as a result, you will have more endurance and be more fit.  That will be your gain.

Yours in fitness,

Olivia C. Rossi, RN, MSN
Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist, ACSM
Certified Personal Trainer, ACSM